Albert Ruddy, Oscar-winning producer of “The Godfather,” dies at 94

Albert S. Ruddy, a vibrant, Canadian-born film producer and screenwriter who earned Oscars for “The Godfather” and “Million Dollar Baby,” crafted the boisterous prison-sports comedy “The Longest Yard” and played a key role in the creation of the popular sitcom “Hogan’s Heroes,” passed away at the age of 94. Ruddy died “peacefully” on Saturday at the UCLA Medical Center, as disclosed by a spokesperson, who noted that among his final words were, “The game is over, but we won the game.” Standing tall and muscular, with a gritty voice and a city boy’s bravado, Ruddy produced over 30 films, experiencing both the pinnacle and the nadir of the industry, from “The Godfather” and “Million Dollar Baby” to “Cannonball Run II” and “Megaforce,” both competitors for Golden Raspberry awards for worst film of the year.

Beyond that, his career was a blend of triumphs like “The Longest Yard,” where he produced and devised the story, and flops such as the Arnold Schwarzenegger thriller “Sabotage.” He frequently collaborated with Burt Reynolds, beginning with “The Longest Yard” and extending to two “Cannonball Run” comedies and “Cloud Nine.” In addition to “Hogan’s Heroes,” his television accomplishments include the films “Married to a Stranger” and “Running Mates.”

Producers Albert S. Ruddy, left, and Tom Rosenberg

Producers Albert S. Ruddy, left, and Tom Rosenberg walk off stage after winning the Oscar for best motion picture of the year for their work on “Million Dollar Baby,” at the 77th Academy Awards Sunday, Feb. 27, 20052005.

LOS ANGELES TIMES PHOTO BY AL SEIB

Al Seib / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Nothing enhances a resume quite like “The Godfather,” but producing it jeopardized Ruddy’s job, standing, and life itself. Frank Sinatra and other Italian Americans were outraged by the project, fearing it would reinforce stereotypes of Italians as criminals, and genuine mobsters made it known that Ruddy was under surveillance. One evening, he heard gunfire outside his residence and the sound of his car windows being shot out.

On his dashboard was a warning to cease production at once. Ruddy extricated himself and the film through diplomacy; he convened with crime boss Joseph Colombo and a couple of enforcers to review the screenplay.

22nd Arpa International Film Festival Closing Night Ceremony

Al Ruddy, pictured at the closing night gala of the 22nd Arpa International Film Festival at the American Legion Post 43 on Nov. 10, 2019 in Los Angeles.

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“Joe sits across from me, one guy’s on the sofa, and another guy’s at the window,” Ruddy told Vanity Fair in 2009. “He puts on his little Ben Franklin glasses, looks at it (the script) for about two minutes. What does this mean ‘fade in?’ he asked.” Ruddy agreed to omit a single, gratuitous reference to the word “mafia” and to make a contribution to the Italian American Civil Rights League. Colombo was so gratified that he encouraged Ruddy to attend a press conference with him to announce his endorsement of the film, resulting in Ruddy being photographed with members of organized crime.

With the stock of parent company Gulf & Western plummeting, Paramount terminated Ruddy, only for director Francis Coppola to protest and have him reinstated. Ultimately, mobsters were cast as extras and openly consulted with cast members. Ruddy himself appeared as a Hollywood studio guard. “It was like one happy family,” Ruddy told Vanity Fair. “All these guys adored the underworld characters, and obviously the underworld guys adored Hollywood.” With a cast including Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, and Robert Duvall, “The Godfather” was both a critical and box office sensation and remains among the most cherished and quoted films in history. When Ruddy was announced as the best picture Oscar winner at the 1973 ceremony, the presenter was Clint Eastwood, with whom he would produce “Million Dollar Baby,” the best picture winner in 2005. Upon the 50th anniversary of “The Godfather,” in 2022, Ruddy himself became a character. Miles Teller portrayed him in “The Offer,” a Paramount+ miniseries about the making of the movie, based on Ruddy’s experiences. “Al Ruddy was absolutely wonderful to me the entire time on ‘The Godfather’; even when they didn’t want me, he wanted me,” Pacino said in a statement. “He gave me the gift of encouragement when I needed it most and I’ll never forget it.”

Al Ruddy, James Brolin, and Clint Eastwood

Al Ruddy, James Brolin, and Clint Eastwood in Los Angeles, California, at the 45th Annual Academy Awards, March 27, 1973.

Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

Ruddy was married to Wanda McDaniel, a sales executive and liaison for Giorgio Armani who helped elevate the brand’s presence in Hollywood, both in films and promotional events. They had two children. Born in Montreal in 1930, Albert Stotland Ruddy relocated to the U.S. as a child and was raised in New York City. After graduating from the University of Southern California, he was working as an architect when he crossed paths with TV actor Bernard Fein in the early 1960s. Ruddy had grown disillusioned with his career, and he and Fein decided to craft a TV series, despite having no prior writing experience. Their initial concept was a comedy set in an American prison, but they quickly revised their idea.

“We read in the paper that … (a) network was doing a sitcom set in an Italian prisoner of war camp and we thought, ‘Perfect,'” Ruddy later recounted. “We rewrote our script and set it in a German POW camp in about two days.” Starring Bob Crane as the shrewd Col. Hogan, “Hogan’s Heroes” aired from 1965-71 on CBS, but faced criticism for trivializing World War II and portraying the Nazis as endearing caricatures. Ruddy recalled network head William Paley calling the show’s premise “reprehensible,” but softening after Ruddy “literally acted out an episode,” complete with barking dogs and other sound effects. While Fein continued with “Hogan’s Heroes,” Ruddy transitioned to film, supervising the low-budget “Wild Seed” for Brando’s production company. His knack for cost management proved invaluable when Paramount Pictures head Robert Evans acquired the rights to Mario Puzo’s bestselling novel “The Godfather” and sought a producer for what was envisioned as a modest, profit-making gangster film. “I got a call on a Sunday. ‘Do you want to produce The Godfather?'” Ruddy told Vanity Fair. “I thought they were joking, right? I said, ‘Yes, of course, I love that book’ — which I had never read.”

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